Anxiety symptoms can have a significant impact on how a person behaves and lives his/her daily life. For example, an anxious person may be trying to avoid feeling anxiety emotions and to “escape” from stressful situations and experiences.
The essence of anxiety is a concern about a possible threat. It has to do with me trying to deal with a future event which I think is negative. This happens while I give more attention to possible signs of a possible danger-threat and while looking inside to see if I am able to cope with this threat. When you observe the anxiety symptoms you believe that you can’t handle the situations and therefore, you become more stressed.
THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF ANXIETY
HOW DOES AVOIDANCE STRENGTHEN ANXIETY
As anxiety increases, you try to reduce it and prevent what you think might happen, by avoiding the situation. If you cannot avoid the situation, then you use covert avoidance in order to control stress. For example, you may use certain rituals, such as standing close to the door so that there is an easy escape. Somehow you might feel less stressed when you use avoidance behaviors. You may take anxiolytics to deal with stressful situations. However, when you have to deal with a situation the next time, then you will be less sure that you can make it, as last time you avoided or depended on security behaviors. So you feel more stress.
SECURITY BEHAVIORS AND ANXIETY
If you feel anxious or expect to become stressed, it is logical to do things to reduce stress, Moreover, apart from avoidance or cover avoidance, a lot of people use security behaviors that help them cope with anxiety. These can be: being dependent on drugs, always having an escape plan for possible stressful situations or always having someone with them. These security behaviors play a role in the vicious cycle of anxiety. When you are dependent on them, it may be more stressful if one day they are not at your disposal.
REVERSING THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF ANXIETY
Vicious cycles play an important role in sustaining stress. Nevertheless, you can reverse this cycle and create a positive cycle that will help you overcome anxiety. An important step in this cycle is gradually dealing with situations you fear. This leads to an increased sense of self-confidence, which will help you reduce your stress and will allow you to enter into situations that are important to you. Some people may encourage you to deal first with your biggest fear and finish with this. However, some people prefer to go step-by-step. This is what we call gradual exposure. You start with situations which are easier for you to handle and gradually “work” on more demanding situations. This allows you to slowly build your self-confidence, to use the skills you learned and to test your fears whenever needed. By doing this in a structured and repetitive manner, you have a good chance to reduce your stress about whatever stresses you.
DEALING STRATEGIES: Breathing and Better Thinking
When you are gradually exposed to situations you fear, there will be a short-term increase of anxiety. This is normal – everyone stresses when doing things they are afraid of. It is important to remember that you can learn other skills as alternative to avoidance and security behaviors.
Stress is associated with rapid, shallow breathing, which contributes to natural sense of anxiety. By slowing down my breathing and using relaxation techniques, I can reduce stress.
There are many kinds of negative thoughts linked with stress, such as “I won’t make it” or “I have to avoid it”. By learning to replace these thoughts with other, more balanced thoughts, I will help to reduce my anxiety experience.
When the anxiety cycle breaks, it will look like this:
REVERSING THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF ANXIETY
BREATHING AFFECTS HOW WE FEEL
The way we breathe is strongly linked to the way we feel. When we are calm we breathe slowly and when we are anxious we breathe faster.
When we breathe we take in oxygen which is used by the body. This process creates carbon dioxide which we breathe out. When our breathing is relaxed, the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide are balanced and that allows our body to function in an effective way.
When we are anxious, our breathing rate increases.
We take in more oxygen and breathe out more carbon dioxide than usual. Nonetheless the body doesn’t work harder than usual and it doesn’t use any extra oxygen and so it does not produce any extra carbon dioxide. Due to the fact that carbon dioxide is being expelled faster than it is being produced its concentration in the blood is being reduced (causing a temporary change in the pH of the blood which is called respiratory alkalosis). That change in carbon dioxide blood concentration can lead us to feel lightheaded, tingly in our fingers and toes, sweaty etc.
When our breathing returns to its usual pace, levels of carbon dioxide in the blood return to normal, and the symptoms resolve.
So, we can deliberately relax our breathing, in order to feel better.
Objective: To relax every muscle in my body and release any tension that I might feel.
Content: Relaxation Exercise
Material: Scenario (written and audio )
Get into a comfortable position. Feel free to sit on a chair or if you are at home you can lie down on the floor on a mat. Find a comfortable way of placing your legs. If you are sitting on a chair have your feet touching the ground and sitting upright. If you are wearing something that bothers you, a belt, jewelry, you can loosen them a bit.
Feeling the solidity of the body, a sense of being elevated and upright and at the same time grounded and connected to the floor to the earth.
Now allow your eyes to close or if you prefer leave the eyes open. If you prefer to leave your eyes open you can look one meter in front of you towards the floor, just resting the gaze on the floor lightly to reduce the instructions coming from the environment.
Sitting here your breath is available to you. You can feel your breath in the body. Remembering that you don’t have anything to do, control it, modify it but instead you are invited to become aware of the breath in the body. Breathing in and breathing out as you are doing anyway all day long. Breathing in easily and effortlessly. Then breathing out. Each breath allows you to become more relaxed and comfortable. Make sure that any part of your body is not tight or tensed.
You may notice that from time to time the mind is wondering. Recognize where the mind is wondering without any need for analysis. What does this mean, why? And then end it and escort your mind back to your breath. You don’t have to judge yourself for wondering. Wondering is normal. You may notice that the mind will wonder 100 times, 100 times come back. Notice and return fresh. Breathing, returning, relaxing. Outside sounds only allow you to go deeper inside: a reminder of how good it is to leave the noise and stress of the outside world and journey into the quiet and peace of your inner world.
And beginning now to direct your attention from the breath to your head and journeying directing your focus on your forehead. Allow it to be relaxed and calm. You feel relaxed in every part of your face. You relax the muscle around your eyes, in the eyes, around the nose, around the mouth, your chin, even the tongue is relaxed now. Feel that even your hair are relaxed and loose. You feel your neck relaxed too. Your head may become heavier a bit. Try not to resist to that relaxation. Breathing…Now travel to your neck and shoulders. This area is usually really tensed. So, move on and relax your arms, your elbows, your wrists, even your fingers are relaxed now. Now return to your shoulders, loosen your spine, your waist, your pelvis, your legs. If there are parts of the body that you are born with and are no longer here, taking a moment to remember them.
If there are parts that have been added or implanted, when we visit those parts of the body, remember those as well. And all the thoughts and the memories that may arise. When you are ready you can move the awareness to the belly and your chest. Breathing…Relax your thighs, your calves and feet and toes are also relaxed and calm. Waves of relaxation flowing through your body. Up through your torso into your chest and your back. Up through the vertebrae and spreading out into each and every muscle of your body. Feel those ripples relaxing you as your muscles let go and become soft and loose. Feel the ripples of relaxation flowing down through the bottom of your torso.
The wave of relaxation is running through your body, searching for any possible tensed muscle that you may forgot. That wave discovers the tension and it dispels it. That wave carries away any tension and as you become more relaxed, you find yourself becoming more quiet and peaceful. Breathing…
As you allow yourself going deeper into a state of relaxation, imagine that you are lying down on a towel on a sandy beach. One beautiful, small beach on a beautiful summer day. You are having a straw hat resting on your face offers you shadow and protects you from sun’s brightness. The sun warms your body in a sweet and caring way. You feel that warmth which enters your body and brings you peace. On that small beach everything is quiet. There is no noise, no responsibilities. Sun is warming you and under the hat you feel your forehead cool, calm and peaceful. Your eyes are sinking even more into the relaxation state. The muscles on your face are completely relaxed. Under your back you feel the warmth of the sand. That warmth helps you relaxing your shoulders, your back, your waist, and your legs. You are sinking even deeper into the relaxation. You feel like you are in a dream. Your mind is travelling like you are on a totally white cloud. A gorgeous cloud. Light! Your cloud is travelling with you on top of it. Stay a bit longer. Breathing…Resting here…
So without hurry, introducing slight movement to your fingers and your toes, Lightly touch your face, massaging the face. On your own time stretching the arms, no need to rush, your legs, move them, Without hurry, you can find your way back to the place and time you are in. Bring with you the relaxation you felt, as a gift to yourself. You just exchanged habits of tension and pressure with habits of relaxation and peace. Now are refreshed and alert, as if you’ve had the perfect amount of rest. And very slowly in case your eyes were closed, open them and allow them to get a sense of the environment around you. And on your own time make your way back to the sitting position.
She starts worrying about what is going on…After a few minutes she realizes that today is the first day of April and students usually play pranks and jokes. That realization helped her feel less anxious but as the time was going by she was getting frustrated about the situation.
She went to the school principal and reported children were not back in class 15 minutes after the bell had rung. She returned back to the classroom where she was trying to calm herself and preparing for the proper behavior to handle the situation.
Her stress level and frustration was quite high and she attempted to try out a relaxation exercise she knew from a stress management workshop, she had attended once. Erica took a few minutes, focusing on her breathing and relaxing every muscle in her tensed body.
Her head was already aching at that moment. She dedicated those minutes to relax her body and after that, calmer prepared herself to face students’ unruly behavior.
- How could Erica’s feelings have affected her body?
- What could have been the possible hazards should Erica have not managed to calm down?